In two English composition classes, we analyzed Parker's op/ed piece, where she accepts and uses the term "full-blooded Americans" as a way to classify both American citizens and who we should vote for in the presidential election.
"Can anything good come after the phrase, 'I'm not a racist, but..."? I asked of the class. "Usually something racist comes after that," one student said. I pointed out that this kind of phrasing usually makes the thing supposed denied the thing obviously addressed. As we looked through what Parker wrote, we noticed how Parker uses the "I'm not (X), but..." rhetorical device, which I've emphasized below in italics, and included written student responses that apply (with minor mechanics corrections). Parker writes:
I pointed out that the first sentence of this section seems to sympathize with 24-year-old Josh Fry of West Virginia, who said the quote. Parker also accepts the term "full-blooded American" instead of questioning it. Here is a student response: "I for one believe that if you have the right qualifications for any particular job, then you should be able to get it."
His feelings aren't racist, he explained. He would just be more comfortable with "someone who is a full-blooded American as president."
Student response: "Parker assumes that every American feels how she does, but not everyone does."
Who "gets" America? And who doesn't? [new paragraph] The answer has nothing to do with a flag lapel pin....it's also not about flagpoles in front yards...
This section puts "blood" or race along with "sacrifice," which usually signifies military service. Student response: "With our discussion, I felt a little offended about the 'full-blooded American' term since my family is all immigrants, except I was born in the United States. So overall, I had to disagree with Parker."
We love to boast that we are a nation of immigrants -- and we are. But there's a different sense of America among those who trace their bloodlines back through generations sacrifice.
A student wrote: "How can you say that you are only 'full-blooded' if your forefathers fought for this country? Many of the Americans that were born of immigrants in the US fight for this country now and will continue; many earn citizenship through military service. So they’re not 'full-blooded Americans'? Your argument is very racist, and I was sad to read your writing." Another student simply wrote, "Barack Obama’s grandfather served in WWII."
Another student response: "I think that Kathleen Parker is a smug brat who is stuck in old-time beliefs. Any person who is born and raised in America is a full-blooded American. I’m half Mexican, half Native American, and I wouldn’t look at myself any other way than as an American. Parker judges by skin, not one’s past."
Student response: "I feel I’m as American as you can get, but I still wouldn’t qualify as one of Parker’s 'full-blooded Americans,' even though my family has been here for hundreds of years."
It isn't necessarily racist or nativist to worry about what these new demographics mean to the larger American story.
After bringing race, patriotism, and military service together, Parker adds another way to separate out who's "full-blooded American" and who is not: monotheistic religion, which we assume must be inside the Judeo-Christian tradition.
[Note: Parker writes two fragments]: That G-d, for instance, isn't something that comes and goes out of fashion. That clinging to religion isn't a knee-jerk response to nativist paranoia, but is the hard work of constant faith.
Here, Parker discusses if "antipathy toward 'people that aren't like them'" is about race or not and if antipathy is an appropriate response:
Student response: "Parker’s article wasn’t very logical and seemed pretty one-sided. She was all about “full-blooded Americans,” and self-righteously told everybody not in this group to study up on the American way and the American past. She should’ve taken her own advice."
Some Americans do feel antipathy toward "people that aren't like them," but that antipathy isn't about racial or ethnic differences. It is not necessary to repair antipathy appropriately directed toward people who disregard the laws of the land and who dismiss the struggles that resulted in their creation.
After we had gotten halfway through reading the article, one student who must've looked ahead said of the above, "Look how it finishes. Unbelievable." The same student wrote this: "This woman needs to hop in a time machine and go back to a time when slavery was around. Maybe being treated like a second-class citizen will get her brain functioning."
Full-blooded Americans get this. Those who hope to lead the nation better get it soon.
Another student wrote, "You depict that what Josh Fry and others feel is not racist, yet the whole op/ed maintains a racist tone. The only 'full-blooded Americans' are American Indians. Take your Nazi propaganda back to Germany – that’s where you’re actually 'full-blooded.'"
Students picked up on this section of Parker's piece:
I pointed out that Parker actually helps us interpret her writing by naming who she thinks are the real "full-blooded Americans" -- listed above as "white Americans...and Southerners, rural and small-town folks." One student picked up on this, and although he didn't know that Parker resides in South Carolina, he wrote, "This article was terrible, as I said in class. This white Southern belle needs to get a time machine and go back to the Civil War era."
Yet, white Americans primarily -- and Southerners, rural and small-town folks especially -- have been put on the defensive for their throwback concerns with "guns, God, and gays..."
One student took the high road: "If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all." He may have been talking about his own feelings for Parker's piece, or suggesting that Parker should not have published this piece.
Another student suggested the latter explicitly: "Kathleen Parker seemed very racist. I believe that she was saying this just for herself, and should not have sent in this piece of writing to be published."
The irony of Parker using the term "full-blooded" and using the "I'm not (X), but..." rhetorical phrase to deny she is addressing Obama's race wasn't lost on one student: "Parker can claim she’s not talking about race, but it is about race. What she’s talking about boils down to race." About Parker's denials, one student said, "She's sinking herself and she doesn't even know it."
As the instructor, I directed the class toward the word choices and phrasings Parker uses, and did not use the phrase "racism" or "racist," although nearly half of the student chose to apply these terms to Parker's article.
After hearing me suggest that "Parker may have meant something different than what it looks like. What if we interpret it from her perspective?" only one student made an attempt at this:
This student makes an excellent observation regarding the fact that Parker does not use direct appeals to her reader. However, before our class got done reading the piece out loud and discussing its language, tone, and arguments, they were already tuned out, seemingly made tired by their earlier exasperation at reading Parker's writing.
I think "Getting Bubba" was more about investigating the motives and thoughts of people like Josh Fry, rather than exposing the author’s personal beliefs. She makes no reference to “I,” “we,” or “us.” She is reporting on an observation of a trend she has made, and I am giving her the benefit of the doubt as to the possible negative connotations of this piece.
Another thing that was interesting about our discussion: we looked at how Parker references Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice:
"Why would she reference Condoleezza Rice?" I asked.
As Condi Rice has noted, it wasn't long ago in this country that blacks needed guns to protect themselves when the police would not.
"Rice is African-American and agrees with a lot of her [Parker's] views, so she's trying to cover up the way she's talking about race," a student responded.
After the end of class, I asked two students, "Should I use this in class again?" and one student said, "Yes, because this shows how not to make an argument, and how stupid you can look if you don't think out what you're saying."
Ironically, something Parker herself wrote applies well to our discussion of her op/ed:
Here's what I said: "We know she's talking about Obama because of how the article starts. Is Obama manipulative?" All I got was one student who said a simple "No." I suggest that Kathleen Parker is the snake-oil salesperson here. The class didn't need "interpreters" to see the assumptions of her argument; they had "a hound's nose" for Parker's snootiness; they took great offense at Parker's "down-the-nose glance" at people outside of her self-serving definition of "full-blooded Americans" as "white Americans...and Southerners, rural and small-town folks."
But so-called "ordinary Americans" aren't so easily manipulated and they don't need interpreters. They can spot a poser a mile off and they have a hound's nose for snootiness. They've got no truck with people who condescend nor tolerance for the down-the-nose glance from people who don't know the things they know.
To sum up our discussion of Parker's "Getting Bubba" piece, the way the students responded indicated that people who would accept the racially-loaded term "full-blooded Americans" like Kathleen Parker should indeed, as Parker writes, "...sense is that their heritage is being swept under the carpet while multiculturalism becomes the new national narrative," because it's a fact for the "multicultural" young people today. Imagine -- an America less obsessed with race, yet easily spotting racism; an America where whether one's ancestors came to North America 50, 100, or 400 years ago doesn't determine whether one is fit for a job; an America where demeaning racial language gets pointed out as such. Nothing is being "swept under the carpet" -- young Americans today do not consider themselves "multicultural"; they consider themselves American. Those that would stand aghast at this should consider whether the American Experiment comes with a "_____(fill in the blank)_____ need not apply" sign.